It’s not only at fine dining that we should maintain proper social graces. Every dinner table deserves that respect, even those at casual restaurants like bistros, pizzerias and grills. What should and shouldn’t we do? Here’s a few:
Ordering before everyone is seated – Sure, you’re starving but your date hasn’t arrived yet. Do you order? The answer is no unless your date calls to say that they will be really late and insists that you go ahead. If they’re just using the comfort room, wait.
Starting to eat before everyone is served – It’s only acceptable to begin your meal before everybody else does if your dish is hot and cannot be enjoyed once it turns cold. You should also wait for someone to urge you to start eating. You shouldn’t just chow down by yourself if the others mind.
Reaching out for the salt at the other end of the table – Always—repeat, always—ask for the salt if it’s beyond reach. Never—repeat, never—extend your arm outside your own “personal space” to try to grab for it. Invading someone else’s “personal space” is sorely frowned upon.
Asking for a taste of someone else’s dish – Some people are just too polite to decline if you ask them whether you could sample their food even if they really don’t want you to. If you’re really close and there wouldn’t be any awkward discomfort, fine. But in general, wait until you get offered a taste.
Digging in from the serving plate – Most of us like sharing food and like them served family-style. And when these dishes are placed at the middle of the table, serving forks or spoons come with them. Please use those utensils instead of your own.
Picking food out of your mouth – Fish bones (and small chicken bones) or anything small and doesn’t look disgusting can be picked out using your fingers and placed at the edge of your plate. If it’s a big slab of fat that you can’ bear to swallow, discreetly spit it out onto a table napkin and keep it unseen by company.
Stacking used plates – You might as well clear the table and wash the dishes if you’re gonna stack them. The wait staff is always around to take away used plates.
Answering phone calls – The general rule is that you should excuse yourself. But many people answer phone calls at the table and it’s beginning to be accepted. If you’re one of those people, the least you could do is speak in a soft voice, away from the people on the table and only stay on the phone for a minute.
Picking your teeth after eating – The toothpicks may be on the table but it doesn’t mean you should use them there. Picking your teeth in front of company, no matter how discreetly, doesn’t really qualify as excellent table manners. Excuse yourself and use the comfort room mirror.
Fixing hair and makeup – One word: don’t. If you have to retouch, go to the comfort room!